Fragmented Selves

I am amazed that somehow I intuitively knew that I had some fragmented parts. I knew that there was a Benevolent Dictator who was holding it all together. I also knew that there were hurt parts that I was working so hard to deny. Until I no longer could.

It is interesting to me now, that it should have been glaringly clear but I missed it. I have worked my way to wholeness, developed my own methodology for doing so and maintaining it. I am a lucky one, but surely everyone was not doing this on their own.

Surely the Mental Health professionals were aware of and fixing Fragmented Selves. So I began my research, which turned up surprising results.

According to The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD, it was not until February 2009 that there was a consistent diagnosis called Development Trauma Disorder.  It was not taken terribly seriously even at this point in time however. So is it any wonder that the traditional methods of dealing with those that suffered early childhood trauma of any sort, continue to be misunderstood and misdiagnosed. 

Prior to this fragmented people were treated according to the individual symptoms that they exhibited. Eating Disorders, Disassociation, Bi Polar disorder, Self Esteem issues and many others.  Not for the root cause ‘Early Developmental Trauma’. 

Janina Fisher explains in Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors that in the face of abuse and neglect, especially at the hands of those they love, children need enough psychological distance from what is happening to avoid being overwhelmed and survive psychologically intact. Preserving some modicum of self-esteem, attachment to family, and hope for the future requires victims to disconnect from what has happened, doubt or disremember their experience, and disown the “bad (victim) child” to whom it happened as “not me”.  By holding out some sense of themselves as “good” disconnected from how they have been exploited, abused children capitalize on the human brain’s innate capacity to split or compartmentalize. Splitting or fragmenting in this way is an ingenious and adaptive survival strategy, but one with a steep price. 

“If the elements of the trauma are replayed again and again, the accompanying stress hormones engrave those memories even more deeply into the mind. Ordinary, day-to-day events become less and less compelling. Not being able to deeply take in what is going on around (us) makes it impossible to feel fully alive. It becomes harder to feel the joys and aggravations of ordinary life, harder to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Not being fully alive in the present keeps (us) more firmly imprisoned in the past” Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD

All research that I have done since recently discovering these works shows that the fundamental workings of the brain in early development have been altered (split) in order to deal with the traumatic experience. 

Brain scans on those that suffered early trauma showed that in a relaxed state the Insula part of the brain has no activity. There was no activation of the self sensing part of the brain. 

The explanation provided is that the trauma itself, and in coping with the dread that persisted long afterward, they had learned to shut down the brain areas that transmit the visceral feeling and emotions that accompany & define terror. Unfortunately, these same brain areas are responsible for registering the range of emotions that form our self awareness, and our sense of who we are. 

In shutting down these emotions, the consequence was deadening their capacity to feel fully alive. Inevitably leading to a loss of purpose & direction. 

Traditional talk therapy may work well with individuals who are less fragmented or traumatized, but does not work with those whose habit of self-alienation & self-rejection recreate the rejection and humiliation of childhood. 

I am eternally thankful that I have found my own way to the light, to a sense of wholeness finally. And I feel encouraged that there is a recognition now of the root causes for so many that suffer from this fragmentation. 

All of this made so much sense to me, and answered my questions as to why I have no recollection of the experience that altered my life at such an early age. And that memories of childhood were spotty at best. I was lucky, I had a wonderful mother. But even despite this, I had experienced a trauma that would alter the way that I moved about in the world. 

How many of us were there, I wondered? Let’s find our way to end the cycle, and heal ourselves.  

The following resources were referred to in this post. 


Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors – Janina Fisher

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – Bessel Van der Kolk, MD



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